AGRICULTURE and Housing Minister Andrew Kumbakor has finally admitted what was an open secret for a while.
The K200 million National Agricultural Development Programme (NADP) funds have mostly been stolen.
And he has put a description to the thieves: “paper and computer farmers of Waigani”.
What has not been stolen has been given away to MPs for unnamed agricultural programmes in their electorates.
And that is how K200 million has been spent.
End of story. No hue and cry. No cause for alarm. Just business as usual. Let us think of how to misspend the next K200 million.
Or so it seems to us.
The agriculture sector is dying and the Government is letting it die. This is scandalous and insane.
Take a look at just one cash crop, coffee, for instance.
Once upon a time the Coffee Industry Stabilisation Fund was the richest in the country after the Mineral Resources Stabilisation Fund.
The fund operated by the industry on a levy system which collected money from farmers when the world market prices went above a certain price range.
Conversely, the fund paid out money to farmers to prop up prices if they dropped below a certain level.
That was in the 1970s and 1980s when agriculture contributed a fair sum to the national budget to the tune of at least K500 million. Those were the days when the national budget was below K2 billion so the crop alone contributed a quarter of all foreign exchange earnings.
And then politics got into the coffee business. A series of politically controversial decisions were made which ultimately saw the end of the coffee industry fund.
With the advent of oil and other mineral revenue, interest in the labour intensive cash crop industry took a plunge.
People saw how landowners were given millions of kina for doing virtually nothing.
At the same time, the Government did nothing but give lip service to the tree crops.
The demise of the cash crop industries was completed by the removal of other protective measures as PNG moved to join the World Trade Organisation and other globalising influences such as APEC.
Unfortunately and unbeknownst to PNG, protectionism remained in the United States and in the European Union, the supposed bastions of world free trade and commerce.
Today coffee, cocoa, copra, rubber and tea are only a small percentage of what the former vibrant industries used to be.
Meanwhile, protectionism thrives in the developed economies which were pushing for removal of protectionist policies of governments in Third World nations.
Today, protection of agricultural industries in the developed nations is so huge that a cow in the European Union is subsidised very many times more than most people get to survive in the poor nations of the world.
It is time the Government gave more than lip service to the agricultural industry in PNG. In the end, the majority of people live off agriculture. When the gold, copper, silver, nickel, cobalt, oil and gas are exhausted, the agricultural sector will remain.
Unless that sector is given proper support, it will be curtains for the sector and there goes the future of the country.
Obura-Wonenara MP, John Boito, may not be accurate in saying that half of the population of the country depend on coffee but more than half of the population definitely depends on agriculture for their livelihood.
Mr Boito has called on the Government to allocate money separately for the coffee industry.
We agree with him but go further to suggest that such money be allocated to each tree crop industry rather than be parked in the department or given to MPs.
We have had enough of politicians going around with money dishing it out to all and sundry to “develop” agriculture.
This is plainly stupid. Few of them are actually trained in agriculture. Most have competing financial needs coming from their electorate that are far removed from agriculture.
There is no capacity to remit and account for funds. There are no extension officers or programmes for any agricultural work attached to the staff of Members of Parliament.
It is just plain a waste of money. That is what happened to the K100 million plus that was parked in the NADP fund.
Each MP was given K1 million to distribute in his electorate. For the reasons stated above, we can safely bet that between 80 % and 90 % of the money went into anything but agriculture.